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First woman rabbi since war ordained in Germany

By MARY LANE
The Associated Press
Thursday, November 4, 2010; 2:55 PM

BERLIN -- Germany's burgeoning Jewish community ordained its first female rabbi since the Holocaust on Thursday, a major step for a religious group that until recently imported its leaders from abroad - most of them men.

The ordination of Alina Treiger, a Ukrainian-born 31-year-old, is a sign of the growing diversity of Germany's largely conservative Jewish community, observers say, though some warned she will face an uphill battle among worshippers used to being led by male rabbis.

"I never thought becoming a rabbi was a possible profession for a woman," acknowledged Treiger, who immigrated to Germany in 2002 after studying music in Moscow, to ZDF public television.

She has been chosen to oversee Jewish communities in Lower Saxony after training at Abraham Geiger College. The school graduated the first male rabbis to be ordained in Germany since World War II in 2006.

Treiger follows in the footsteps of Regina Jonas, who became the first female rabbi when she was ordained in 1935, during the Nazi regime. Jonas managed to survive until 1944 when she was killed in Auschwitz, one of about 200,000 German Jews, and 6 million across Europe, to perish in the Holocaust.

A handful of other female rabbis already work in Germany, but all were educated and ordained elsewhere.

Treiger will face some challenges. Orthodox Jews do not ordain female rabbis, and while Treiger's ordination signals a step toward the liberalization of Germany's small, tight-knit Jewish community, it remains dominated by conservatives, said Albert Meyer, a former head of Berlin's Jewish Community.

"The majority won't accept it. For them it's still strange that a woman will be a rabbi," he said. "In America, it's a very common thing, but here it's still a sensation."

But, President Christian Wulff lauded Treiger's ordination as a sign of the community's vibrance.

"This not only fills the Jewish community with happiness, but it also shows that the Jewish life - the whole spectrum of Jewish life, from orthodox to liberal - has taken root in our country again with intensity," President Christian Wulff said. "So we are all happy today."

By the end of World War II in 1945, just 10,000 to 15,000 Jews remained in Germany. It took 45 years for the number to double to 30,000, when East and West Germany reunited in 1990. A government policy that has streamlined immigration of Jews from the former Soviet states has helped the community swell to some 200,000 today, still a decided minority in a country of 82 million.

Treiger said that while she recognizes the Nazi genocide has a "deep meaning" to German Jews and that "our memory of our relatives is always with us," she also hopes Jews are aware of the opportunities of life in Germany.

"For me personally it is very important that Jewish people identify with positive experiences, also for young people, and not only the negative," she said.

© 2010 The Associated Press